So now of course, people are making excuses for the team not meeting expectations. The truth is, in a truly grueling season, this team did more than hold it's own - no excuses are necessary. If fact, they probably exceeded most reasonable expectations.
Yesterday they were beaten by better prepared team. To say anything less is to denigrate an Eagles team which very well could go on to win it's first Super Bowl.
So, how is it a 12-4 year can seem like a failure for New York? Did Eli Manning revert to mediocrity? Did the distraction of Plaxico Burress cost his team it's chance to repeat? My answers are: it isn't, he didn't, and nope.
None of these are the reasons the Giants will be watching this year's Super Bowl instead of playing in it. Here is my post-mortem report for the New York Giants, 2008:
On paper, the 12-4 Giants seemed to have a great shot at repeating last year's championship run. They played 10 straight opponents with winning records, going 7-3 in that stretch. They went 4-2 in arguably the toughest division in football. They led the league in rushing, had two 1,000 yard backs, were ranked in the top ten in the league defensively and had the NFC Pro Bowl placekicker and punter.
Now we know why the game isn't played on paper, don't we?
On the field, it was a different matter. All the favorable statistics aside, this team was not quite as good as they played this year. Last year's team played well in spurts and gave fans a glimpse of a bright future. Then they got on a tear, played at their peak level in the playoffs, and the rest is history.
Despite being ripe for a let down after their championship, the Giants went out and won three games for every one they lost this year. There was no post-Super Bowl hangover, they stepped on the gas from week one. They played with a chip and certainly looked like they had an opportunity to repeat as Super Bowl champs.
But the dynamic of their season was different. Some wins came at the expense of bad teams and some came against good teams during down periods. They caught some of the best teams on their schedule like Pittsburgh and Baltimore at perfect times and took advantage.
After losing two straight games in December, they showed championship form by coming from eight points down in the fourth quarter to beat Carolina in overtime. That clinched the top seed in the playoffs and showed they were still a great football team with a lot of heart. Even with that effort, they were just not as good as last year while the rest of the league got better.
As far as Manning goes, it's the same as for any individual player. Last time I checked, football was a team game. Sure, he didn't play great yesterday, but it would be hard to find guys who did. He doesn't deserve any more blame than anybody else who botched a play, missed a tackle, or missed a catch.
He may not look great at times but Eli has won a Super Bowl, putting him among a pretty select group of quarterbacks. Looking around the league, I think the Giants like their chances with Manning as their quarterback. As for the Burress situation, everything that needs to be said about it has been said. For professional athletes to use the behavioral problems of a teammate as an excuse for poor play is stupid and indefensible. I haven't heard one player use it yet and I hope none of them do, it'll just make them look like whiners.
How about these, what if Strahan didn't retire, or Osi didn't get hurt?
So what? They did. Get over it, fellow fans.
Every player in the league has injuries and has to play through them. If they can't, you plug someone else in and get to the getting. The Giants did a great job of that last year, and this year not quite so good. An area to work on in the off-season? I think so.
The good news is that this team is built for the future. They have some needs to fill to be sure, but the nucleus of this team will be around for a while. With an astute front office, a brand new stadium generating a ton of new revenue, and two extra draft picks this year, prospects look good for more Giants playoff runs in the future.